According to Commerce Department data released Tuesday, apparel imports surged 19 percent in March compared to the same month last year, to $7.9 billion. The increase greatly outpaced that of overall imports, which rose by only 1.8% to $199 billion in the month.
In late February, an agreement was reached between the parties in the West Coast ports work slowdown, and the huge backlog of imported goods finally began entering the U.S., which helped boost March apparel import figures.
On a 12-month smoothed basis, which corrects for volatility of data in a particular month, apparel import growth was 3.3% in March, its largest increase in five months and three times February’s growth rate.
China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia and India are the top five of U.S. imported apparel so far this year, though Indonesia has seen its apparel exports to the U.S. drop in the first three months of the year compared to 2014.
Apparel exports continued to outperform the total export market, however, increasing by 3.2% to $523 million. Overall exports of goods and services dropped by 6.2% in the month, hurt by the strength of the dollar. On a 12-month smoothed basis, however, apparel export growth dropped by 0.9% percent, its first decline in almost five years.
Canada is the biggest importer of U.S. apparel so far this year, comprising more than one-third of exports, followed by Mexico, the U.K., Japan and Honduras.